In many cases, when there's a player with a usage around 30%, it's indicative of a good player playing on a team without much of a supporting cast--Bo McCalebb, for instance. But JJ Hickson has plenty of help. Maybe it's a little bit of "look, shiny new power forward!" syndrome, but more likely, if the chemistry issues are as significant as they appear to be, it's an indication that the rest of the team can't figure out how to play with him. Or that when they get him the ball in the post, they give up on the possession. Could they really resent him that much?
I don't think JJ is being selfish, and his turnovers have inflated his usage to a certain extent, but if Lowe doesn't think the offense is broken simply because Costner and McCauley have been terrible, the alternative conclusion is that it's broken because it's become a single-minded exercise in getting JJ Hickson the basketball. Regardless, there is no fluidity in what we are doing right now. Everyone looks like a square peg attempting to fit into a round hole.
Lowe's tried to smooth things over by putting McCauley back into the starting lineup, giving him more time with Costner, and bringing Hickson off the bench. But while Ben's minutes have increased, his productivity hasn't. And we can't afford to play Hickson any less--not only is he productive offensively, he's a shot blocking threat at the defensive end and the team's best rebounder. So everybody's gonna have to figure their shit out while JJ is on the floor. There is no other option. We don't have the luxury of attempting to work the situation out in practice while integrating him into games gradually. He's far too talented for that, and as a team we are too weak where he is strong.
You might have caught this on the bottom line last night: VMI 156, Columbia Union 91. The game had 116 possessions; VMI took 107 shots along with 41 FTAs and forced 44 turnovers. Columbia's Tim Turner had 13 giveaways by himself.
VMI was by a wide margin the fastest-paced team in the country last season, which allowed them to put up plenty of gaudy per game statistics. It's not quite the Grinnell College system, but it's close.
Baucom believed the best way to keep games close would be to wear down teams with conditioning and increased possessions. That would make points less valuable, a sort of hard-court inflation. If VMI trailed 50-35 in the second half, it would be like being down 30. If VMI trailed 90-75, it would be like being down eight or so.
VMI would create this pace using constant full-court pressure, trapping the ball wherever it went. On offense, the Keydets would freewheel, launching every open shot they found. They would sub in a fresh five players every two minutes, like hockey shifts, to maintain the frenzy. They would need to create extra possessions to make up for all the missed shots, so all but one player would crash the offensive boards.
Baucom introduced the new system during an intrasquad scrimmage, outlining it for only one team. After the team using it won, 125-111, Baucom shepherded the team into its meeting room and showed them the eye-popping stat sheet
"That's how we're going to play," Baucom said. "These will be your stats."
Players exchanged high-fives before Baucom outlined the team goals for each game: Shoot 100 shots, 50 of them three-pointers. Rebound 35 percent of the misses. Force 30 turnovers.
I don't see coaches talking about rebounding percentages too often, so kudos to Baucom for that.
VMI's offense improved significantly when it implemented this system, but the cost is that it's virtually impossible to play good defense this way. Take a look at how opponents shot the ball against the Keydets in 2007.
That turnover percentage sticks out like the sorest of thumbs; it was the only thing keeping Michigan State's offense from being truly elite in 2007. Last February, Big Ten Wonk wrote:
I can't repeat this often enough: this is the scariest 7-6 in-conference team around. Scary because they already play D, they already hit the boards (see last night), they even shoot pretty well. Their only weakness--and it's huge--is that they kill themselves with turnovers. If they can merely hold on to the ball, you're looking at a team that's the equal of Wisconsin and Ohio State. Repeat: equal.
The turnover percentages of their top six minutes-getters in '07:
Having a turnover rate in the vicinity of 25% is acceptable if you're the point guard, but most of those guys? Not point guards. Bottom line: if you ain't the one, ideally you should be below 20%. Getting back to the Wonk's point, there was no better offense on turnover-less possessions than Michigan State's in the Big Ten a year ago. When they weren't dribbling the ball off their feet, they usually were scoring. For better and for worse, all of those guys are back in 2008--turnovers have remained an issue, but the Spartans are, again, strong in each of the other three factors. They shoot well, rebound like a bunch of football players (hmm), and get to the line often.
And guess what one of our major defensive weaknesses is! Forcing turnovers. Yikes.
Drew Neitzel (6-0, 180) -- The Spartans rarely shoot threes--and why would they when they can grind you into a pulp with their forwards--but when they do take them, it's usually Neitzel doing the shooting. And he's very good out there. He's a two-guard assuming the PG role--a spot up shooter who isn't particularly quick off the dribble. Nearly 60% of his shots came from three last season.
Role players don't usually see their usage jump to focal-point levels, but that's what happened to Neitzel in 2007, when his usage climbed to 25.6% from 16.4% the year prior. He is the one player on the roster with whom you may trust the basketball, and you can expect him to handle it plenty.
Kalin Lucas (6-0, 165) -- Tough debut for the freshman: a 30.0 effective field goal percentage and a turnover rate north of 30%.
Raymar Morgan (6-7, 220) -- Like most of Michigan State's forwards, he wasn't very efficient in 2007, but so far this year, he's been brilliant. And he's been the team's primary offensive option, with a usage upwards of 28%. Meet offensive rebounding terror #1.
Marquise Gray (6-8, 235) -- Not a huge part of the offense, but he'll block shots, and, of course, rebound.
Goran Suton (6-10, 245) -- Posted a nice assist rate last season to go with excellent rebounding at both ends.
Four guys are getting 15+ minutes off the bench in 2008: Chris Allen (6-3, 190), Durrell Summers (6-5, 195), Travis Walton (6-2, 195), and Drew Naymick (6-10, 245).
Allen has been quite involved offensively: ninth in minutes played, but third in field goal attempts. And he's been productive, averaging 23.2 pts/40, just not very efficient. He'll shoot often from three.
Walton, who was a starter a year ago, won't be shooting too much; he's more of a pass-first point guard.
Naymick is a rebounding/shot blocking role player.
Michigan State Defense 06-07
Off Reb Rate
Not surprisingly, the Spartans play good interior defense--opponents shot 42.2% on their twos in 2007. MSU blocks a lot of shots, but they're one of the worst teams in the country at stealing the ball. There's a reason they don't steal the ball: they don't care to.
For Izzo, everything else starts with rebounding. He wants his guys to grab defensive rebounds and push the ball up the floor. He tells them not to be overaggressive on the perimeter -- "We're not into passing lanes and steals," Izzo said -- which means his guards are often closer to the basket, and therefore in great position to rebound.
Izzo prefers solid on-ball defense and lock-down rebounding; his teams force a lot of misses and grab most of them. You don't need to force turnovers to have a good defense when you do those things. (By the way: if anyone's looking for a Christmas gift for Sidney...)
That said, their defensive rebounding has been unusually poor in 2008, but considering that they have returned every player from a team that rebounded well at this end last season, that probably doesn't mean anything.
-- I've talked about shot attempt differential before--the number of additional shots, with free throws factored in, that a team gets per 100 possessions. We were the worst team in the ACC in this category a year ago, and it's an area in which we really need to improve in order to take the step forward we're all hoping for in 2008. Conference foes had nearly 10 more shot attempts per game than did the Pack last season, and that's a big disadvantage. So far this year, so bad: -21.8 shots per 100 possessions, or -14.2 per game. All three teams we played in Orlando took 20+ more shots from the field than we did, though we did at least have a large FTA advantage against Rider.
At this point I don't think we can reasonably expect this team to start forcing more turnovers, but we can and should get better on the defensive glass. That should be a large part of our focus between now and the start of conference play.
Our on-ball defense has been stellar--opponents have a 39.5% effective field goal percentage, which ranks us ninth nationally. If we can just start cleaning up those misses, we'll do ourselves a huge favor. As it is, we rank 15th in defensive efficiency, which is excellent. According to Ken Pomeroy, the collection of offenses we've seen through five games is the 13th toughest in the country.
-- Our shooting has carried us through these first five games, just as it did all of last season. The only way to win games when you're so far behind in the TO/Reb factors is to shoot significantly better than the other team, and we've done that in every game this season. Despite 92 more field goal attempts, opponents have only made three more baskets than we have. We have not surprisingly sustained our success from inside the arc:
2007 2008 2FG% 55.5 54.9 3FG% 35.7 32.9
-- This tournament was a great experience for us. We got a chance to play two major-conference teams in November--one of which is definitely of NCAA tournament caliber--which is always a bonus, we played in close games, we saw some very good guards and an excellent front court player. We saw a variety of defensive looks, including a well-executed 1-2-2 press, which can only help down the road. Oh, and we won the damn thing; that doesn't hurt, either.
-- We're sitting at #32 in the RPI with a schedule that ranks 41st, so we're in pretty good shape despite the UNO loss. According to the Pomeroy Ratings, we've played like a bubble team so far, and I think that's about right.
Villanova's offense is off to a hot start in 2008 (#1 in adj off eff), shooting well, protecting the basketball, grabbing offensive boards in bunches. Despite losing a couple of excellent offensive rebounders from a year ago, they haven't missed a beat so far, as the new starters are also capable on the offensive glass. And the starting lineup features plenty of height: 6-2, 6-5, 6-7, 6-8, 6-10.
The Man To Know in this one is Scottie Reynolds, a point guard who will shoot it from everywhere. While he shot well from three last year, scoring from inside the arc was a struggle (and that trend has continued into 2008).
Statistically, the defense has been about as bad as the offense has been good, but that's because they're enduring a bit of early season bad luck: almost 50% of their opponents' field goal attempts have come from outside, where those opponents have shot 44.1%. But they're forcing turnovers and rebounding well, which indicates that they're active and sound fundamentally, and their 2FG% defense has been fine. That's not to say they don't have a weakness along the perimeter--the Cats' 3FG% defense was average in '07--but they're going to regress in the right direction, obviously.
They tend to commit plenty of fouls, though, and that's something we can definitely take advantage of.
-- Better, I suppose. Still sloppy, and for a team that supposedly wants to run, we sure don't run the break very well.
-- In regards to rebounding and turnover margin, the early indications are all bad. We've yet to force an opponent to turn the ball over on more than 20% of their possessions. We out-rebounded Rider by the slimmest of margins, but this was on the strength of offensive boards, as we weren't good at the defensive end.
-- Where have you gone, Dennis Horner?
-- One assist from the point guards in 40 minutes.
The Broncs return four starters from the only Division I team in New Jersey to finish above .500 last season, led by All-American candidate Jason Thompson.
That's right; stick it, Rutgers!
Jason Thompson is the 2008 MAAC pre-season player of the year, and he's one of the best forwards we're going to see all season. He averaged 20 and 10 in 2007, and like Bo McCalebb, he is a very high usage player. Only one other guy on the team--departed point guard Terrance Mouton--used an above average number of possessions last season. From Draft Express:
As one would expect from a player of Thompson’s size in a smaller conference, he gets the majority of his touches in the post. He does a fairly good job of getting position and keeping it, but at 250 pounds, there is room on his frame to add more muscle, which would certainly help him at the next level. What is interesting to observe, is despite having a height advantage on most of his defenders, Thompson often tries relying on his speed rather than his size to score. He has a fairly quick spin move and shows decent footwork on the block. He is very aggressive going to the basket and shows nice touch around the hole, but as is common with so many college big men, he often rushes his shot, releasing before he is squared to the rim.
Good early test for the Pack's interior defense.
Thompson's presence aside, Rider is on the smallish side, and they tended towards a perimeter-oriented attack in 2007. They're shooting threes less frequently so far in '08, but there's no telling if that's a real indicator of stylistic change.
Justin Robinson (6-2, 185) -- Robinson is tasked with replacing Mouton's steady hand at the point. Tough going so far--he's averaging 7.2 turnovers per 40 minutes (42.5% turnover rate).
Harris Mansell (6-3, 215) -- Rider's third-leading scorer a year ago, Mansell hit 53% (70-132) of his three-point attempts. He's 8-11 through three games this season.
Ryan Thompson (6-6, 210) -- Ryan has the potential to be a versatile scoring threat to complement his big brother; outside shooting was a problem in 2007, but he should be much closer to an average three-point shooter in 2008.
Mike Ringgold (6-7, 200) -- The freshman has had a nice start to his career shooting the ball, but not so much in other areas.
Jason Thompson (6-11, 250) -- Take a look at the 2007 scouting report and you'll see a lot of red ink next to Thompson's name. He rebounds well at both ends, gets to the line often, blocks shots, dishes assists, you name it. He'll take the occasional three (maybe one per game) but he hasn't been effective from out there over the course of his career.
Lamar Johnson (6-3, 190) is the sixth man; he'll probably be good for 20+ minutes tomorrow, and he should be pretty involved offensively. He is a three-point specialist--or, rather, a wannabe three-point specialist since he takes a ton of them but doesn't hit many (32.6% for his career).
Joel Green (6-8, 210) had himself an unfortunate 2007--he shot 35.8% from inside the arc. He's a solid shot blocker, but that's about it.
Matt Griffin (5-11, 165) is competing with Robinson for the point guard slot but has so far taken the back seat.
Rider Defense 06-07
Off Reb Rate
They held their own on the interior thanks to Jason Thompson, but perimeter defense was a problem. The Broncs didn't force many turnovers--no one on the roster is particularly adept at stealing the ball--and they didn't rebound well defensively, either. Not that any of this will matter if we come out with another lazy effort.
Below is a look at the plus/minus in terms of points for each player through two games. This is calculated by taking the Pack's point differential while a player is in the game and subtracting the Pack's point differential while a player is on the bench.
For example, we've outscored our opponents by 32 points with Hickson on the floor and been outscored by 13 with him on the bench.
-- McCauley: ouch. We've been terrible both offensively and defensively over the course of the roughly 30% of possessions he's been on the court.
-- Sidney Lowe has tried 21 different lineup combinations so far this season. Aside from the starting lineup of Degand-Fells-Grant-Costner-Hickson, which has been on the court for about half of the possessions so far, there is no combination that has seen a significant amount of time on the floor. Lowe's second-most used lineup is Gonzalez-Ferguson-Grant-Horner-McCauley, which has been on the court for a grand total of 15 possessions (8 offensive, 7 defensive).
-- Costner and McCauley have played together on 26 possessions (12 offensive, 14 defensive). That's out of 259 total (offensive and defensive) possessions, so they've played together just 10% of the time.
To follow up on some work done by SFN, here's a look at how the team fared against New Orleans while each player was on/off the court. For the game, State's offensive efficiency was 90.0 and its defensive efficiency was 92.9
Hickson On 55 54 101.9 46 55 83.6 . Off 8 15 53.3 17 15 113.3
Fells On 54 53 101.9 49 55 89.1 . Off 9 16 56.3 16 15 106.7
Grant On 55 52 105.8 58 54 107.4 . Off 8 17 47.1 7 16 43.8
Degand On 50 51 98.0 47 52 90.4 . Off 13 18 72.2 18 18 100.0
Costner On 50 49 102.0 46 51 90.2 . Off 13 20 65.0 19 19 100.0
Gonzalez On 13 18 72.2 18 18 100.0 . Off 50 51 98.0 47 52 90.4
Ferguson On 9 20 45.0 19 19 100.0 . Off 54 49 110.2 47 51 92.2
Smith On 0 6 0 7 6 116.7 . Off 63 63 100.0 58 64 90.6
Horner On 16 19 84.2 12 18 66.7 . Off 47 50 94.0 53 51 103.9
McCauley On 13 21 61.9 23 21 109.5 . Off 50 48 104.2 42 49 85.7
I don't think Gonzalez and Ferguson should ever be on the court at the same time, and Lowe left them both out there for a while on Sunday. It hurts having two positions on the floor occupied by non-offensive/low usage players. Ferguson is such a liability on the defensive end that he has to produce something offensively to make his playing time even remotely useful. It would be a big help to this team if Ferguson could assume a three-point specialist role, but he doesn't seem to want to get involved.
Yesterday, my car said, "you want to drive me to Winston-Salem? I don't think so." Perhaps I should have taken that as a bad omen.
The game was a disappointment right from the start, as the Wolfpack defense looked like it was hardly bothering the Wake Forest offense. We weren't getting any push at the line of scrimmage, and the Deacons were killing the zone with quick side-to-side passes.
By halftime, I was frustrated and pissed off, and I didn't figure we'd be able to get back into this one. Fortunately, the Pack looked completely different in the third quarter. The defense moved to the ball faster and the guys were fighting off blocks and finally beginning to stymie Wake's east-west game. Two third quarter TDs brought us to within a field goal, and at that point Wake Forest had managed four total yards in three second half possessions.
Wake's fourth possession of the quarter was the beginning of the most crucial part of the game--where we totally blew it. The Deacs scored on the very first play to push the lead back to 10, and the Wolfpack offense responded with a three-and-out and an ineffective drive that resulted in a missed field goal. As quickly as we'd opened the door for ourselves, we'd closed it.
So we find ourselves in the same position we were two years ago--needing a win against Maryland in the last game of the season in order to become bowl eligible. It's too bad we brought such a lame effort to Winston-Salem; I was hoping I'd be able to relax next weekend.
-- Daniel Evans hasn't played well for several weeks now, a fact that was easier to overlook when we were winning games despite him:
Opponent Yds/Att Miami 5.2 UNC 5.5 Wake 5.1
-- I continue to be impressed by Marcus Stone's hands. He's made a lot of great catches on bad balls over the last few weeks.
-- DaJuan Morgan led the defense with 15 tackles--all solo. That he was so busy tells you what kind of night the front seven had, but what a fantastic performance.
-- Count me among those who thought we threw the ball too often in short yardage situations. Normally I wouldn't mind, but there were a couple of bothersome occasions where we went pass-pass back to back on 3rd-and-short and 4th-and-short.
-- Wake had just 85 yards of offense in the second half (and 62 of those came on one play). If only we'd been able to make adjustments sooner.
-- We should probably stop sending Darrell Blackman over the middle. I've had enough of the alligator arms.
(* -- McCalebb broke his thumb early in the fourth game of the '06 season and missed the rest of the year.)
There's high usage, and there's put-the-entire-team-on-your-back high usage. McCalebb's 38.9% usage in 2007 led the nation, while his %Shots figure ranked 2nd. No one's more involved in his team's offfense than this guy, and that's a lot of pressure--pressure that he handled admirably. Of the I-A players with a usage above 28% in 2007, only 22 had a higher offensive rating than McCalebb.
Granted, his production came against a lot of bad mid-majors, but anyone who can maintain a semblance of efficiency with such a ridiculous workload deserves some credit regardless.
Bo McCalebb (6-0, 180) -- McCalebb took more than 500 two-point attempts last season and made nearly half of them, quite a feat for someone his size. If there's a limitation to his game, it's his outside shooting, but he understands this and doesn't take many from beyond the arc. I'm not sure what's more impressive--that he had a turnover rate below 13% or that he had an OR% north of 8%; both numbers are incredible. He averaged 22.4 field goal attempts per 40 minutes last year.
Shaun Reynolds (5-11, 175) -- A good three-point shooter in 2007, but a selective one: he took 59 in nearly 1100 minutes. Like McCalebb, he preferred two-pointers, but had far less success making them. Excellent free throw rate, though, so I would imagine he's pretty fast.
Kyndall Dykes (6-3, 170) -- A newcomer to the program, so I don't have anything on him. UNO lists him as a forward. Sure, Kyndall, you can be whatever you want to be.
James Parlow (6-3, 170) -- Here's your token three-point specialist. Low-usage, never gets to the line, doesn't turn it over much.
Ben Elias (6-10, 260) --
Please do not take the embarrassment personally.
Depending on whether or not the Privateers decide to stick with their multi-guard style or try to match up by adding some size to the lineup, we may see one of these guys starting: Jacob Manning (6-7, 205), TJ Worley (6-4, 205), Jaroslav Tyrna (6-10, 220).
Manning was a starter in 2006 but missed the majority of last season with an injury. Worley transferred from Delaware State after two seasons and sat out 2007. He looks like a decent outside shooter. Tyrna is a freshman from Prague, where an overbearing gymnastics coach pushed him away from his first love and led him to discover basketball.
"For next exercise, put hands on hips, jump out window, and go tell parents to STOP WASTING TIME WITH FAILURE CHILD!!!"
New Orleans Defense 06-07
Off Reb Rate
New Orleans had the fifth-worst adjusted defensive efficiency in I-A last year. When your top four minutes-getters are all 6-3 or shorter, as was the case in 2007, defense tends to be an issue. Opponents shot with ease from inside and out, and they grabbed a ton of their own misses.
Zach Smith blogs about the Deacs at Old Gold & Blog. He answered a few of my questions below. My responses to his questions are here.
1.) Wake has scored a bunch of non-offensive touchdowns this year, and over the last couple of years at least, it seems like the Deacs have been incredibly opportunistic in regards to turnovers. If this isn't mostly just good luck, what's going on?
This is just the way Wake plays football. More often than not, the big play comes because we sit back and let it come to us due to a mistake by the opponent. That isn’t to say that our defenders/kick returns haven’t made some great plays on their own, but by focusing on avoiding mistakes and letting the big plays come to us, good things have happened.
2.) Kenneth Moore--the best receiver in the ACC that no one's heard of? Also, I noticed that aside from Moore, there seems to be a lack of productive receivers. Is depth an issue there?
I can’t argue with that. Kenny has been all over the place this season, and it is definitely disappointing that he doesn’t have more support around him. There are enough guys who play the position, just not enough of them producing. The biggest disappointment in this area has been Kevin Marion, who has proved time and time again that he can’t catch a pass (unfortunate since he has a tendency to run very far very fast when he does get the ball). Several weeks ago we took the redshirt off of freshman Jordan Williams (almost unheard of under Grobe) and he has started to show some promise, but it isn’t enough yet.
Really though, the only other significant passing target has been TE John Tereshinski
3.) Why hasn't some other school driven a truckload of cash to Jim Grobe's house?
Well it has happened to an extent in the past, as he was being talked about for the Alabama job last season until he made it very clear he didn’t want to go anywhere. I pretty much expect Nebraska to come after him this off season, and possibly several others if the Michigan job opens up and starts a coaching carousel. Unfortunately for those schools (but not for us) Grobe really does seem to like it here and seems totally believable when he says he wants to stay, so at this point I’m really not that worried about losing him.
4.) Who are the standouts on the defensive side of the ball for Wake this year? Where is the defense's biggest weakness?
The defense has been an interesting (and by interesting I mean alternatively awesome and incredibly frustrating) group to watch this season. Aaron Curry has played very well and very consistently at linebacker, and Jeremy Thompson has 6.5 sacks. Our run defense has looked very good all season long. The secondary has been a bit more interesting, making many great plays (Alphonso Smith’s 4 INTs with 150 INT returns yards) and many mysteriously terrible ones (the entire secondary at the end of the 1st half against Virginia ). Particularly after the last two games, there’s no doubt in my mind that they secondary is the weak link in our defense.
5.) The whole winning an ACC championship thing--overrated, yes? Please say yes.
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the Herb Sendek era was that his teams won with offense, not defense. Sendek earned a reputation as an excellent teacher of defensive skills, while it was widely believed that his perimeter-oriented offense needed work. Back in March of 2006, Caulton Tudor had this to say:
But unless 2006-07 produces unexpected success, Sendek needs to admit the obvious: His offensive system has run its course. It no longer catches quality opponents by surprise, and when the outside shots aren't falling against those teams, defeat is virtually unavoidable.
I doubt many disagreed with the assertion that the system had become stale, but the notion that its effectiveness had dwindled with time is completely false. As the above numbers illustrate, even in Sendek's last year, the offense was among the best in the ACC.
So I had a lot of reservations about moving away from that style; I wondered if it might have been best to compromise between old and new rather than jump full bore into something for which we do not have all the necessary parts. And while it's true that offensive production took a nose dive last season, it wouldn't be fair to fault the scheme. I'm sold on what Sidney Lowe is doing. We discovered that we have a couple of big men who can score efficiently in the block, and Lowe was adept at making adjustments and taking advantage of matchups. We played to our newfound strengths, which is all you can ask for.
Because we played more inside-out last season, and because we lacked a replacement for Engin Atsur, the Wolfpack's turnover rate took a big jump in the wrong direction. This is where the point-guard-as-key-to-the-season story line fits in. As we've seen in the past, offensive rebounds aren't particularly important to good shooting teams that take care of the basketball. The offense is going to be better in 2008 simply because its component parts are better (and less tired), and we're going to shoot well again, but if we can't protect the basketball, we aren't going to rejoin the conference's elite.
Why? Because offensive rebounding is a major work in progress. The types of players recruited by Sendek generally didn't have a lot of inherent rebounding skill, and the majority of the roster is still composed of these players. Traditional forwards--the big-framed reboundy types--didn't fit into the offense, and that was the sacrifice we made. JJ Hickson and Tracy Smith are more traditional and they'll help the Pack improve, but if those two are reserves all season, just how much improvement can be expected? The average ACC team rebounded 34.5% of its own misses in 2007, and we were pretty far removed from that.
McCauley was an excellent offensive rebounder, Costner was decent, and that really was it as far as rebounding threats on this side of the court last season. The freshmen are unknown quantities at this point, though I expect Hickson to prove to be good in this area. So assuming we don't get a lot better here (it wouldn't be unheard of for a team to make the leap we'd need to make just to be average, it's just unlikely in my opinion), that means we'll be leaning heavily on our first shots again, which makes the turnover rate absolutely critical to success.
By the way, you'd think that we'd get to the line more frequently with a frontcourt-heavy style, but not so:
We can make some headway simply by shoring up the perimeter defense. I was alarmed by how lax we were guarding the arc last season, and I don't think this is something that can be entirely dismissed with the short bench excuse.
N.C. State finished last in the ACC in rebounding margin last season, a statistic Lowe feels certain will be turned around in 2007-08.
"Frankly, last year we couldn't afford to get our big guys in foul trouble and we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds," he says. "That's not the situation now."
We allowed opponents to grab over 40% of their own misses in seven of 16 conference games last season--basically, we got pulverized nightly. That spelled doom for a team that rarely forced turnovers.
I expect a solid improvement in defensive rebounding, but I'm not sure about the turnover rate. None of the guys who played frequently last season proved themselves adept at stealing the ball (State ranked 305th in steal percentage); we'll need Fells and the point guards to step up in 2008. Inside, the Pack lacked a shot blocking threat in 2007, but I'm hopeful that Hickson will provide the presence we need. Courtney Fells had the highest block rate on the team last year--not the best of signs. There's more to it than that, of course--playing more fundamentally sound on-ball defense will help as well. We have the luxury of being able to expend more energy on the defensive side.
Oh No, 8-8! Burn The Blazer!
If we end up winning 8-9 conference games, that shouldn't be viewed as a disappointment. It's important to set aside the hype and remember that we have some rather glaring issues to fix. We are going to need a significant amount of improvement in several facets if we're going to contend for the ACC's regular season title; a Wolfpack basketball team that improves by 5 pts/100 poss offensively and defensively is still merely a .500 team (in conference).
The Tribe must replace guard Adam Payton, who was the team's leading scorer and a third team All-CAA selection in 2007, but the other four starters are back, as are the main contributors off the bench.
They were the definition of average offensively last season--the closest thing to a strength was their two-point shooting, but that was mitigated by a preference to shoot a lot of threes and shoot them poorly. W&M expected senior forward Corey Cofield to be a primary scorer; he ended up academically ineligible instead, forcing William & Mary into at three-guard lineup that made for a lot more shots from behind the arc. This transition did not go well. Such a shift tends to be problematic when you suck at shooting threes.
David Schneider (6-3, 175) -- I've read that Schneider is the point guard, but I have a hard time picturing a guy who averaged 3.5 assists/40 minutes in any sort of ball distribution role. While he did a nice job protecting the ball and getting to the line in 2007--not bad for a freshman--he had a terrible year shooting.
Nathan Mann (6-2, 190) -- Schneider's partner in three-point-brick-laying crime, Mann led the team in 3FGAs last season. But although he ended the season having hit less than a third of his threes (32.3%), he shot much better than that over the last 13 games of the season--right around the 41.1% he shot in 2006.
Laimis Kisielius (6-8, 225) -- Likely to be the Tribe's highest usage player and leading scorer in 2008. After putrid freshman and sophomore seasons, Kisielius miraculously discovered a shooting touch as a junior last season, so I can't help but be a little suspicious.
He's turnover-prone, and he isn't much of a rebounder or shot blocker.
Peter Stein (6-9, 235) -- A low-usage role player who provides efficient shooting. But oh my heavens, the turnovers.
Chris Darnell (6-9, 235) -- Well, he, uh ... you don't want him touching the basketball if you're William & Mary. He averaged about 7 shots per 40 minutes last year and had three attempts in 29 minutes against Georgetown on Saturday--a minimal impact, to say the least. As if you couldn't tell, the Tribe will rely heavily on Schneider/Mann/Kisielius.
Alex Smith (6-5, 250), Kyle Carrabine (6-7, 210), and Danny Sumner (6-7, 205) should see most of the time off the bench, especially against the Wolfpack. The Georgetown game is probably a good indication of how the minutes will be distributed.
Smith provided efficient shooting and solid rebounding as the sixth man a year ago. On paper, he jumps out as a player who should have gotten more time than he did. He handled an above-average proportion of possessions and was (by W&M standards) still reasonably efficient.
Carrabine is a three-point specialist. Anagram "Kyle Carrabine" and you get Nae Bricklayer (that can't be a good sign).
William & Mary Defense 06-07
Off Reb Rate
They rarely blocked shots or stole the basketball in 2007, which doesn't speak too well for their athleticism (William and Mary basketball: We're whiter than Canada!). It also makes me wonder how their TO% wasn't worse than it was. The block rate may improve a wee bit as the guys who are halfway decent at altering shots ease into a little more PT in '08 (plus, they ranked 310th in this category; there's no where else to go), but the steal rate may be another story since Payton was their best player in this regard.
The Tribe allowed opponents to shoot 50% on their twos last season--that along with the lousy block rate point to a vulnerable interior defense.
The Predict-O-Meter will be on hiatus until January or thereabouts. But, like, we should totally win.
As Kendric Burney cradled a tipped ball into his hands, and as he got big in a hurry while running down the sideline in my direction, I experienced the kind of nausea that is normally reserved for the morning after a night of heavy drinking. The Tar Heels had been outplayed, but they'd caught a break and they'd taken the lead. The last fifteen years told me that was it. The game was over. I didn't know how to even begin coming to terms with that. I wasn't sure I wanted to hang around for what remained; I thought about walking out of the stadium. And had Chuck Amato still been the Wolfpack's coach, I probably would have.
Recent series history reminded me that we were doomed, but the previous three weeks reminded me that things had changed for the better, that we were capable of making the clutch plays necessary to win close games, that we were in the hands of a coaching staff that could, like, coach.
“Some people, they lean on their old ways at times,” Eugene said. “Some people just can’t give up their full trust in somebody and their full belief in somebody. I think that’s what was going on at the beginning. You didn’t really know exactly what to expect or how things were going to go. As the season went on, and as the days and weeks and months went on, we started to see how the coaches really did care, how they really did want to win as bad if not more than us. So, we started picking it up and trusting in them fully. Now, things look a little better.”
"They did a good job of scouting us," said Hilee Taylor. "We have a front seven that is aggressive and the stretch play is a finesse way of running and stretching until you find a hole. Their running back was a good running back and we tried to do too much. I'm pretty sure when we watch film we'll see we got out of our gaps. The play takes so long to develop that you have a tendency to sneak your eyes in the backfield and then you're out of position."
On our second possession of the game, Curtis Underwood ran through a large hole in the right side of Carolina's defense for a 12-yard gain. After the play, Durell Mapp got in defensive tackle Marvin Austin's face, and the two exchanged a few shoves. After watching the replay a few times, it appears that Austin mistakenly thought that he and the other DT were supposed to be stunting. As the Heels come off the ball, Austin changes direction to his left while the other defensive linemen go right. This results in both defensive tackles attacking the same gap, which allows Austin to burst through the line unmolested, but by this point he is out of the play. Underwood ran to the space vacated by Austin and had himself a nice gain.
-- I sat in the student section yesterday--and went in through the student entrance--and had a surprisingly painless experience. There was a line to get in, as there always is, but it moved pretty quickly, and I didn't notice any difference between the way I was treated by security here and the way I'd been treated at the non-student gates in previous weeks.
-- Almost as enjoyable as beating Carolina yesterday was browsing Eagle Insider. On "Will TOB pull another WTF????" (let's hear it for excessive punctuation), packcoach responds to a jab:
"If you're such a great fan, why weren't you at Carter-Finley today? Scared of getting shot outside the stadium?"
Maybe because the game was a sellout? You see, some schools have things called "sellouts". Thats when they have fans that show up to watch the games.
Mere hours later, Boston College allowed a bad Maryland offense to rack up 472 yards as Terps QB Chris Turner quadrupled his season TD pass total. WTF indeed, you ass hats.
UNC has owned this series since winning 11 of 14. Brown's latter teams were more talented than Mike O'Cain's, beating MOC in all seven matchups.
Then MOC lost two in Charlotte he probably should have won 37-34 in OT in 1998 and 10-6 in 1999, definitely the latter which featured the aforementioned Williams, a converted safety, at quarterback.
I didn't think it could get more painful than that '99 game...then 2004 happened. NC State hasn't won a close game against Carolina since 1992, which is probably why I usually feel a bit of dread mixed in with the excitement that leads up to this game. It seems like the Heels are always the ones catching the breaks needed in order to win. Hopefully that changes tomorrow.
-- WRAL looks at what it cost State and Carolina for the night prior to their respective season openers.
Carolina spent $17,616.55 for the night. State spent $9,507.
Carolina coach Butch Davis had a two-room suite; State coach Tom O’Brien didn’t stay with his team. Carolina had 69 total rooms and housed 86 players. The Heels also brought coaches, graduate assistants, video assistants and even two police escorts and three bus drivers.
While I was looking around YouTube, I also found this:
...which is a game called dizzy bat. You pour a beer into a whiffle ball bat, chug it, spin around, then attempt to hit your empty beer can. If you miss, you have to do it again until you eventually make contact. I am ashamed for having never heard of this until just now.
I think it would take Adam Dunn at least ten tries to make contact; Juan Pierre, conversely, would make contact on his first try, but would ground out weakly to SUV.
UNCP's point-zone defense was active and effective, turning State into a jump-shooting team much of the opening half.
I didn't catch the game, but, yeah, apparently. If you force this Wolfpack team to take more than half of its shots from behind the arc, you've done something right. State shot 18-21 (85.7%) on its twos.
-- Much better defensive rebounding effort this time around, and a better overall defensive performance as well.
-- Trevor Ferguson: he's aliiiiiive. Typically he doesn't so much use possessions as he does stand there and watch the other four guys use possessions. But not last night! Seven field goal attempts. And a team-leading eight rebounds?!
“Their coach is from Boston College and he’s going to try to run the ball and run the ball,” Taylor said. “What we’ve got to do is hit them in the mouth and stop the run and get them into our game, which is throwing the ball, and we can win that game as well.”
Let's take a look at some of the numbers underlying State's turnaround. I've included only our games against I-A opponents in what you see below, and in honor of TOB's then rolleye-worthy, now sure-I-mean-I-guess-shrug-worthy bit of coaching psychology, I'll call the five games before the bye week the "first season" and the three games after it the "second season."
The third line includes an adjustment for the difference in average plays per game. Our last three games have seen a significant increase in plays per game-- about 7-8 more plays from scrimmage for both teams. The adjustment puts the two "seasons" on equal footing in this regard.
It wasn't difficult to tell before the year started that the second half of the schedule would be the easier portion, and without question the change in quality of opponents is partially responsible for the raw improvement. Opponents' full season averages:
Yds/G Yds/Play YdsAllowed/G YdsAllowed/Play 1st Season 432.1 5.7 345.6 5.0 2nd Season 352.3 5.2 364.1 5.0
Our last three opponents average about 80 fewer total yards of offense per game, and the entire difference is in the passing game. Transitioning from Matty Heisman and Brian Brohm to Rob Kass and Kirby Freeman never hurts.
The NC State offense:
Yds/PassAtt INT% Yds/RuAtt 1st Season 5.9 7.6 2.7 2nd Season 6.8 1.5 2.6
A bit of strangeness from the Miami game: Kirby Freeman, with all of one completion, averaged more yards per attempt (6.0) than did Daniel Evans (5.2).
[1:44PM] Unofficially, Miami has 182 yards to our 153, but Kirby Freeman is just 1-7. We've run 36 plays, they've run 27.
[1:57PM] Two nice third down conversions to start the second half. We're continuing to run the ball on first down, but that's not getting us much.
Blackman drops a third down pass that would have been good for the conversion, we're in no man's land so we go for it on fourth down and don't get it. Big turn of events.
[1:58PM] DaJuan Morgan! But it's under review. Of course it is.
[2:03PM] INT confirmed. Whew. Evans comes out and nearly throws a pick, but it's pass interference on Miami.
[2:05PM] The deep balls haven't done anything except make me nervous. On third down, Evans hits Bowens who is collared at the line of scrimmage--there's a flagrant facemask, but the refs, naturally, did not see it.
[2:09PM] Bowens is in the locker room and Javon Walker was just helped off the field. Fantastic.
[2:19PM] Bad series after the missed Miami field goal. Bummer.
[2:27PM] Dodged a bullet there, because that was a touchdown. I thought it was pretty clear on replay, but the review officials did not. So thanks, fellas. Field goal's good, it's 13-7.
[2:33PM] Finally! A deep completion to Darrell Blackman, who's wide open. He takes the ball inside Miami's 20.
[2:34PM] This is huge, obviously. And a nice job by the offense after Blackman's excellent kickoff return was called back on a hold.
[2:38PM] Damn, held to three. Hauschka is money this time, though.
[2:39PM] Miami has more total yards, but we've run a lot more plays and have more first downs. I don't know what the time of possession looks like, but I would assume we're winning there as well.
[2:46PM] Pack is across midfield. The nerves are really setting in now. Good things will happen good things will happen good things will happen.
[2:49PM] Line drive field goal, which I thought was blocked for a second, is good. Tie game. Come on, defense!
[2:57PM] I love you, Kirby Freeman.
[3:05PM] Steven Hauschka is money. Is Kyle Wright healthy enough to go here? I gotta think we'll see him if he is.
[3:08PM] Freeman still in the game, Miami still running effectively.
[3:12PM] Third down for Miami near midfield, they call timeout. I am dyin' here.
[3:20PM] Just slightly frustrating, this drive.
[3:26PM] Overtime it is. I can't take it, man. I can't take it.
[3:34PM] Third and long for Miami. Come on, D, do it right here. Please.
[3:36PM] No good!!!!
[3:39PM] Steven Hauschka is GOOD! Wolfpack wins! I feel like I'm going to pass out. Woo!
[11:56AM] After a little vacation, the pre-game nerves have returned. Big game today.
Lee Corso just picked against Rutgers because this week is their "first game on grass." I'm not sure that's a particularly important factor.
[12:05PM] Hey, Larry Coker's calling the game! Prepare to be bored. He calls Kirby Freeman "more creative" during the pre-game coverage, which...I don't know, doesn't strike me as a compliment.
Miami has the ball first, and they're going backwards! Great job there. They get a little back on second down, but a penalty pushes them further back and makes it impossible for Freeman. They's puntin'.
[12:09PM] That could have gone better. Nice punt puts Miami at its own 10, though.
[12:15PM] I suppose I shouldn't be talking, all things considered, but is there anything worse than these noon Big Ten games?
Miami busts a 12-yard run on first down...so much for pinning them deep. They get back to going no where on the next series, fortunately, dropping a screen and watching a Kirby Freeman third down pass fly over everybody.
[12:17PM] Bah. Run, run, run, punt. Maybe the gameplan is to wait for Kirby Freeman to do something stupid.
[12:22PM] Miami is run, run, running as well, with the difference being that it's working for them. I thought we had the running back stopped for a loss on third down, but instead he busts out of it for a huge gain. We looked slow right there. Must make Kirby Freeman do something.
[12:28PM] 95 total yards for the U, all of them on the ground. Bad news, that. Finally, the defense stuffs the run once Miami is inside our 10. On third down, Kirby is a scramblin' fool, but this gets him nothing but a pat on the back for throwing the ball out of the end zone. Held 'em to three--I can dig it.
[12:33PM] Well, after what looked like our first third down conversion, we've gone backwards. Penalty, penalty, sack. Joy. But at least we saw passes being completed.
[12:36PM] Kirby Freeman, everybody.
[12:40PM] I'm not liking the play calling so far. We're staying conservative, which I understand, I guess.
A first down! And there are no flags!
[12:44PM] The first down merely delayed the punt. Miami's defense is playing really well. They're getting heat on Evans just by rushing four, and boy are they fast.
[12:48PM] Randy Shannon, repulsed by the idea of Kirby Freeman under center, decides to let Darnell Jenkins give it a go. He gives it a go to the tune of 12 rushing yards lost. Miami punts and the good field position for the Wolfpack continues. Maybe we could do something this time.
And, whoa, Danny scrambles for 16 yards to pick up the first down...or maybe not. Officials review the spot, just to waste our time. Thanks.
[1:02PM] How about some Marcus Stone! But the drive ends when Evans misses an open Dunlap on third down. Pressure made him rush the throw a bit. Hauschka misses his first field goal attempt of the year. Damn hell ass.
[1:08PM] That did not just happen. Wow.
[1:15PM] Good completion to Blackman followed by a brilliant run by Eugene. We desperately need points here.
[1:19PM] Owen Spencer! We're on the board as soon as they realize this review is pointless.
[1:21PM] Good lord, the officials in this league. Evans sneaks it in after a garbage reversal. Time to pour another drink.
[1:30PM] 10-7 Miami at the half, which I will gladly take. Penalties, a blown coverage, and a missed chip shot field goal have made the difference.